ABC Drive, Brisbane 7/11/19

November 07, 2019


SUBJECT: ALP campaign review.

STEVE AUSTIN: Jim Chalmers is Labor's Shadow Treasurer and the federal member for the Labor held seat of Rankin on the southside of Brisbane, based around Logan. Jim Chalmers, give me your reaction, first of all, to the Review into federal Labor's election loss.

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: I think it's a pretty honest and comprehensive examination of the campaign and what went wrong for us in the election in May. It's important that we learn the lessons from them without obsessing over them, but learn what went wrong, try not to repeat the same mistakes, move forward and put together a policy agenda that people can support next time around.

AUSTIN: Were there any revelations for you as a Queensland federal Labor leader specifically about what wrong in Queensland, which seemed to be quite different from other states of Australia like Victoria?

CHALMERS: Absolutely, Steve. We underperformed pretty badly in the best state in the Commonwealth and that's something that we need to reflect on. We've always known that to win office nationally you need to do relatively well in Queensland. When we won from Opposition in 2007 we won 15 out of 29 seats. This time we only won six out of 30. Clearly we've underperformed here. Jay Weatherill and Craig Emerson did a good job delving into what happened here in Queensland and they found a couple of things. First of all, in the Christian communities, in the coal mining communities, and in areas where people are economically insecure and politically disengaged, that's where we underperformed right around Australia and there are more of those voters in Queensland proportionately than elsewhere. So that's part of it. We weren't helped by the broader coalition, not just of the LNP, but of Palmer and Hanson. The money that Clive Palmer spent on advertising was obviously a factor. So was the fact that Pauline Hanson was preferencing against us in seats like Longman and Herbert, which we went on to lose. Those are all important things to reflect on but overwhelmingly, and overall, I think it's clear that we didn't get the message right in Queensland just like we didn't get it right around the rest of the country.

AUSTIN: Judging from the Review you wouldn't have got the message right because the Review says frank, internal discussion was not encouraged. It's surprising to hear that from a political party like the Labor Party.

CHALMERS: That wasn't my experience at the time.

AUSTIN: So you were listened to?

CHALMERS: People had an opportunity to have a say. We didn't get the decision-making structures perfectly right just like we didn't get other elements of the campaign right but I don't think that was the main reason why we lost. There's no one overriding reason why we lost the election. I think that's the key conclusion out of the campaign review. No one person, Bill Shorten or otherwise, should carry the can for what happened and there was no one policy decision or campaign issue which cost us the election. It was the combination of all of these things together. I think that's an important conclusion because we do need to resist the urge to oversimplify what happened.

AUSTIN: The Labor Party's working class, almost Christian liberal roots, in my mind seem to have been lost. The Review noted that low-income workers swung against Labor. Think about the implications of that. That's the blue-collar heartland of what once would have been the core of the Labor Party's support base.

CHALMERS: Spot on, Steve. From my point of view that's the biggest issue that we're dealing with. The issues that we've had in the outer suburbs and in the regions where people on lower incomes and people whose work is precarious, they didn't feel comfortable with what we were putting forward in the election. That's the thing I'm most focussed on as we go about our work in this term. The way to think about that is when I'm doing a mobile office later on at Arndale shops in Springwood people won't say to me that they lie awake at night wondering why Labor lost the election. They'll say they lie awake at night wondering why their wages aren't growing and they can't keep up with the cost of living. Those people have precarious household budgets, insecure work, their wages are stagnant, they've got high household debt. Those are the people that we need to reach. We didn't do a good enough job of that last time and we need to turn that around.

AUSTIN: My guest is Jim Chalmers, senior federal ALP member here in Queensland, holds the seat of Rankin. He's also the Shadow Treasury spokesperson. This is ABC Radio, Steve Austin's my name. We're talking about the ALP's Review of their federal election performance by Jay Weatherill and Craig Emerson. What are you going to do? I know that the report implies heavily that you had the measure of Malcolm Turnbull, but when the Liberals changed their leader to Scott Morrison, you had difficulty getting a handle on him. Is that still the case?

CHALMERS: I don't think that has to be the case. We were out-campaigned and there's no use pretending otherwise. We got a number of things wrong in the campaign and Scott Morrison had a number of things go right but I think overwhelmingly the reason he succeeded was he focussed 100 per cent on Labor, didn't have much of an offering of his own, and he was able to scare the bejesus out of people. That was a successful strategy to win an election but it's not proving to be a successful strategy to grow the economy the right way. He was successful in the election but I don't think that means that he's doing a good job since the election. The conclusions of the Review were that we had a handle on Malcolm, but not on Scott Morrison. That's something for us to reflect on. Just because Morrison got through the election doesn't mean that we will have a tough time dealing with him this term.

AUSTIN: Jim Chalmers, how are you going to win back those low-income working families or those traditional devout Christians and first generation immigrant Christians? How are you going to win them back? This was a big gap that almost everyone got blindsided by when the Israel Folau issue rose up so strongly prior to the federal election.

CHALMERS: We've got to reassure people and remind them that we are the party that cares about the outer suburbs. We care about wages, cost of living, household debt, job creation and opportunities for our people. All of those bread-and-butter things have always been associated with in the Labor Party. When we bit off more than we could chew in a policy sense in the election campaign, we obscured some of those things that we care the most about. We need to get back to those basics. We need to be the Party of the outer suburbs and the regions and we need to reassure people that the things that they are most concerned about are our priorities too.

AUSTIN: At the same time you have to be a party of values and principles including action on climate change. It's almost like walking one foot on the side of the barbed wire fence in my mind.

CHALMERS: Not necessarily, Steve. I know that's been a key part of the conversation since the election and I've followed that very closely. My impression is that people want to deal with climate change because they know that renewable energy can be cheaper, we can get emissions down, we can get the investment in our communities sorted out. There are job opportunities in the low-pollution economy, as Anthony Albanese said in Perth the other day. I think people understand that we had some other issues in coal mining communities where there was a perception that we were sending mixed messages on coal. I think Queenslanders want us to deal with climate change in a responsible way. They want us to do it in a way that gets their power prices down and gets emissions down and I think that's possible. We will always be more ambitious on climate change than our opponents.

AUSTIN: I was telling people after the federal election result that people in the regions in Queensland didn't vote for Adani. What they voted for were jobs and the two aren't necessarily the same.

CHALMERS: Yes and I think that's smart to try and understand that the issues around the Adani weren't always specifically about Adani. We created the perception that maybe we didn't value or understand as well as we should have the role of those jobs in those communities. We need to do a better job of that. We did probably send mixed messages if we're honest about it. I think the only way to restore faith in Labor in those communities is to spend a lot of time there, reassure them that we are the party of jobs and economic growth, that we do understand that it's hard to make ends meet in regional Queensland and that we have a broad plan to deal with that by the time the election rolls around in 2022.

AUSTIN: I'll let you go. Jim Chalmers, thanks for your time.

CHALMERS: Thank you, Steve.